We’ve all seen the movie. A canny, well-muscled spy races against the clock to disarm a nuclear bomb that has been hidden by an evil chap with aspirations for world domination. The hero locates the bomb, disarms it with a second to spare, and then rides into the sunset with the token blonde bombshell.
This is the closest most Westerners come to contemplating nuclear cataclysm. When the subject does come up in the real world, it is more as a political issue or an intellectual exercise. Nuclear bombs are negotiating tools, leverage, more a political weapon than an actual weapon of mass destruction.
Seventy-five years ago today, nuclear war became a horrifying reality to the people of Hiroshima. On August 6 and 9, 1945, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were struck with nuclear bombs. Little Boy, at 15 kilotons, and Fat Man, at 20 kilotons, are like air rifles compared to modern nuclear warheads of up to 50,000 kilotons.
The suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was incomprehensible. This is partly why The New Yorker dispatched John Hersey to Japan a few weeks after the bombings. Hersey was tasked with the job of exploring Hiroshima and Nagasaki and documenting the stomach-turning devastation. The final product was Hiroshima, which became a bestseller and a defining piece of literature during the Cold War.
Hersey relates the experiences of six people who were in the city the day the bomb detonated: Toshiko Sasaki, an office clerk; Masakazu Fujii, a doctor; Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow; Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German Jesuit priest; Terufumi Sasaki, a young doctor; Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Methodist pastor.
It’s worth examining their stories.
There are 15,000 to 20,000 nuclear bombs on this planet. The United States and Russia keep hundreds of bombs on high-alert status, which means they can be released in minutes. India, Pakistan and Israel have the bomb. North Korea, an unstable, unpredictable regime, has nuclear bombs. Some people believe that some terrorists already possess nuclear weapons. Then there is Iran, the greatest terrorist regime in the world, on the cusp of getting the bomb.
Consider too: The motives for using nuclear weapons are intensifying. Fundamentally, the decision to flick the switch is caused by fear, anger, hatred, vulnerability, emotional volatility or religious fanaticism. These emotions and beliefs are the catalysts of nuclear war, and they are welling up in people all over the Earth. All it takes is one person in power to snap, and the unthinkable happens.
As long as nuclear weapons exist, and as long as human nature is present, then nuclear war is a possibility. Indeed, it is inevitable.
What does nuclear war look like? What does it sound like? Taste like? Feel like? This isn’t an easy or pleasant subject to think about. But it is necessary and important that we do.
If you can, try to avoid merely seeing these people as historical figures. Instead, set yourself in their shoes on that fateful August day.
Flashing Light, Creeping Darkness
Tanimoto, the Methodist pastor, remembers the seconds after the bomb struck. “Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky. Mr. Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it traveled from east to west, from the city toward the hills. It seemed a sheet of sun. Both he and Mr. Matsuo reacted in terror—and both had time to react (for they were 3,500 yards, or two miles, from the center of the explosion). Mr. Matsuo dashed up the front steps into the house and dived among the bedrolls and buried himself there. Mr. Tanimoto took four or five steps and threw himself between two big rocks in the garden. He bellied up very hard against one of them. As his face was against the stone, he did not see what happened. He felt a sudden pressure, and then splinters and pieces of board and fragments of tile fell on him. He heard no roar. (Almost no one in Hiroshima recalls hearing any noise of the bomb. …) … He noticed as he ran that the concrete wall of the estate had fallen over—toward the house rather than away from it. … Under what seemed to be a local dust cloud, the day grew darker and darker.”
At the same time, widow Hatsuyo Nakamura and three young children experienced the blast. “As Mrs. Nakamura stood watching her neighbor, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen. She did not notice what happened to the man next door; the reflex of a mother set her in motion toward her children. … Timbers fell around her as she landed, and a shower of tiles pummeled her; everything became dark, for she was buried. The debris did not cover her deeply. She rose up and freed herself. She heard a child cry, ‘Mother, help me!’ and saw her youngest—Myeko, the 5-year-old—buried up to her breast and unable to move. As Mrs. Nakamura started frantically to claw her way toward the baby, she could see or hear nothing of her other children.”
These accounts describe a blinding flash of light, and then creeping darkness. It is much like the scenes described in Joel 2:2-3 and the book of Revelation, which discuss end-time events and say that the day will turn into the night.
Sasaki, the clerk, was sitting at her desk when Little Boy struck. “Just as she turned her head away from the windows, the room was filled with a blinding light. She was paralyzed by fear, fixed still in her chair for a long moment (the plant was 1,600 yards from the center).
“From the mound, Mr. Tanimoto saw an astonishing panorama. Not just a patch of Koi, as he had expected, but as much of Hiroshima as he could see through the clouded air was giving off a thick, dreadful miasma.”
Nakamura uncovered her other two children and tried to find a place of safety. “The children were silent except for the 5-year-old, Myeko, who kept asking questions: ‘Why is it night already? Why did our house fall down? What happened?’”
Imagine the fear. And the questions: What’s next? Is another explosion coming? Where is my family? Where are my friends? Where do you run to when everything around you is obliterated? Who do you turn to for help when everyone needs help?
Kleinsorge, the Jesuit priest, felt the strange eeriness directly after impact. “Kleinsorge went inside to fetch some things he wanted to save. He found his room in a state of weird and illogical confusion. A first-aid kit was hanging undisturbed on a hook on the wall, but his clothes, which had been on other hooks nearby, were nowhere to be seen. His desk was in splinters all over the room, but a mere paper-mache suitcase, which he had hidden under the desk, stood handle-side up, without a scratch on it, in the doorway of the room, where he could not miss it.”
Disbelief Turns to Chaos
Hersey recalls that immediately after the bomb exploded there was an eerie tranquility. About 80,000 people had just been instantly killed. And those who weren’t dead were wounded and/or in a state of total shock and confusion. Then the silence turned into chaos, and the disbelief gave way to unbearable pain.
Hersey recalls the scene. “Wounded people supported maimed people; disfigured families leaned together. Many people were vomiting. A tremendous number of schoolgirls—some of those who had been taken from their classrooms to work outdoors clearing fire lanes—crept into the hospital. In a city of 245,000, nearly 100,000 people had been killed or doomed at one blow; 100,000 more were hurt. At least 10,000 of the wounded made their way to the best hospital in town, which was altogether unequal to such a trampling, since it had only 600 beds, and they had all been occupied. The people in the suffocating crowd inside the hospital wept and cried, for Dr. Sasaki to hear, ‘Sensei! Doctor!’ and the less seriously wounded came and pulled at his sleeve and begged him to come to the aid of the worse wounded. Tugged here and there in his stockinged feet, bewildered by the numbers, staggered by so much raw flesh, Dr. Sasaki lost all sense of profession and stopped working as a skillful surgeon and a sympathetic man; he became an automaton, mechanically wiping, daubing, winding, wiping, daubing, winding.”
Much of the population had been destroyed. The city’s infrastructure was destroyed. More than 92 percent of doctors were killed or wounded. In an attack of this magnitude, for the vast majority of victims, there are no doctors or nurses or hospitals or drugs or police or firemen. It’s every man for himself in this nuclear aftermath.
Following the attack, Tanimoto ran toward downtown Hiroshima in search of his wife and child. “He was the only person making his way into the city; he met hundreds and hundreds who were fleeing, and every one of them seemed to be hurt in some way. The eyebrows of some were burned off, and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of pain, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands. Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing. On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns—of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos. Many, although injured themselves, supported relatives who were worse off. Almost all had their heads bowed, looked straight ahead, were silent, and showed no expression whatever.”
Tanimoto actually found his wife and child, both of whom were unhurt. He made sure they were safe, and then set about helping the sea of survivors.
Isaiah 13:6-13 describe a time when the sun will be darkened, the heavens will be shaken, people will be filled with terror, and “all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.” Again, this can only be talking about nuclear warfare.
Across town, Sasaki, the clerk, was struggling to extricate herself from the bookshelf that had fallen on her. “Miss Sasaki spoke to the rescuer, and he worked toward her. He pulled away a great number of books, until he had made a tunnel to her. She could see his perspiring face as he said, ‘Come out, miss.’ She tried. ‘I can’t move,’ she said. The man excavated some more and told her to try with all her strength to get out. But books were heavy on her hips, and the man finally saw that a bookcase was leaning on the books and that a heavy beam pressed down on the bookcase. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘I’ll get a crowbar.’ The man was gone a long time, and when he came back, he was ill-tempered, as if her plight were all her fault. ‘We have no men to help you,’ he shouted in through the tunnel. ‘You’ll have to get out by yourself.’ ‘That’s impossible,’ she said. ‘My left leg ….’ The man went away.” Amid such tragedy, most people take care of the self.
“Much later, several men came and dragged Miss Sasaki out. Her left leg was not severed, but it was badly broken and cut, and it hung askew below the knee. … Then a man propped up a large sheet of corrugated iron as a kind of lean-to, and took her in his arms and carried her to it. She was grateful until he brought two horribly wounded people—a woman with a whole breast sheared off and a man whose face was all raw from a burn—to share the simple shed with her. No one came back. The rain cleared and the cloudy afternoon was hot; before nightfall the three grotesques under the slanting piece of twisted iron began to smell quite bad.”
Despite having her three children at her side, the horror for Nakamura was far from over: “At once they were nauseated and began vomiting, and they retched the whole day. Others were also nauseated; they all thought (probably because of the strong odor of ionization, an ‘electric smell’ given off by the bomb’s fission) that they were sick from a gas the Americans had dropped.”
Kleinsorge, the Jesuit priest, commented, “It’s funny, but things don’t matter any more. Yesterday, my shoes were my most important possessions. Today, I don’t care. One pair is enough.”
There’s no materialism in nuclear aftermath. The bmws and Guccis don’t matter. There’s no rich and poor, little to no vanity or pride. Crisis of this nature is a great leveler.
The Methodist pastor filled his hours helping others: “Mr. Tanimoto found about 20 men and women on the sandspit. He drove the boat onto the bank and urged them to get aboard. They did not move, and he realized that they were too weak to lift themselves. He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like pieces. He was so sickened by this that he had to sit down for a moment. Then he got out into the water and, though a small man, lifted several of the men and women, who were naked, into his boat. Their backs and breasts were clammy, and he remembered uneasily what the great burns he had seen during the day had been like: yellow at first, then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally, in the evening, suppurated and smelly.”
Kleinsorge, the Jesuit, witnessed horror after horror as the hours passed: “When he had penetrated the bushes, he saw there were about 20 men, and they were all in exactly the same nightmarish state: Their faces were wholly burned, their eyesockets were hollow, the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks. (They must have had their faces upturned when the bomb went off; perhaps they were antiaircraft personnel.) Their mouths were mere swollen, pus-covered wounds, which they could not bear to stretch enough to admit the spout of the teapot. …
“Since that day, Father Kleinsorge has thought back to how queasy he had once been at the sight of pain, how someone else’s cut finger used to make him turn faint. Yet there in the park he was so benumbed that immediately after leaving this horrible sight he stopped on a path by one of the pools and discussed with a lightly wounded man whether it would be safe to eat the fat, two-foot carp that floated dead on the surface of the water.”
Sasaki, the clerk, still lay under the tin shelter, badly injured: “Altogether, Miss Sasaki was left two days and two nights under the piece of propped-up roofing with her crushed leg and her two unpleasant comrades. Her only diversion was when men came to the factory air-raid shelters, which she could see from under one corner of her shelter, and hauled corpses up out of them with ropes. Her leg became discolored, swollen and putrid. All that time, she went without food and water. On the third day, August 8, some friends who supposed she was dead came to look for her body and found her. They told her that her mother, father and baby brother, who at the time of the explosion were in the Tamura Pediatric Hospital, where the baby was a patient, had all been given up as certainly dead, since the hospital was totally destroyed.”
This was utter loss and devastation. It was physical, mental and emotional suffering beyond imagination.
Tanimoto, the preacher, worked through the day, helping anyone he could: “Whatever he did in the park, he felt he was being watched by the 20-year-old girl, Mrs. Kamai, his former neighbor, whom he had seen on the day the bomb exploded, with her dead baby daughter in her arms. She kept the small corpse in her arms for four days, even though it began smelling bad on the second day. Once, Mr. Tanimoto sat with her for a while, and she told him that the bomb had buried her under their house with the baby strapped to her back, and that when she had dug herself free, she had discovered that the baby was choking, its mouth full of dirt. With her little finger, she had carefully cleaned out the infant’s mouth, and for a time the child had breathed normally and seemed all right; then suddenly it had died.”
The nuclear fallout caused major problems for months. Radiation sickness set in. “As she dressed on the morning of August 20 in the home of her sister-in-law in Kabe, not far from Nagatsuka, Mrs. Nakamura, who had suffered no cuts or burns at all, though she had been rather nauseated all through the week she and her children had spent as guests of Father Kleinsorge and the other Catholics at the Novitiate, began fixing her hair and noticed, after one stroke, that her comb carried with it a whole handful of hair; the second time, the same thing happened, so she stopped combing at once. But in the next three or four days, her hair kept falling out of its own accord, until she was quite bald. She began living indoors, practically in hiding. On August 26, both she and her younger daughter, Myeko, woke up feeling extremely weak and tired, and they stayed on their bedrolls. Her son and other daughter, who had shared every experience with her during and after the bombing, felt fine.”
The nuclear blast was so fierce, shadows were engraved on walls. “The scientists noticed that the flash of the bomb had discolored concrete to a light reddish tint, had scaled off the surface of granite, and had scorched certain other types of building material, and that consequently the bomb had, in some places, left prints of the shadows that had been cast by its light. The experts found, for instance, a permanent shadow thrown on the roof of the Chamber of Commerce building ….”
Hiroshima inflicted permanent physical and mental scars. “A year after the bomb was dropped, Miss Sasaki was a cripple; Mrs. Nakamura was destitute; Father Kleinsorge was back in the hospital; Dr. Sasaki was not capable of the work he once could do; Dr. Fujii had lost the 30-room hospital it took him many years to acquire, and had no prospects of rebuilding it; Mr. Tanimoto’s church had been ruined and he no longer had his exceptional vitality. The lives of these six people, who were among the luckiest in Hiroshima, would never be the same.”
Nuclear War Prophesied
These scenes are not easy to think about. When we do, the natural response, besides empathizing with these victims, is to view Hiroshima and Nagasaki first and foremost as tragic history, unique, anomalous and distant. The reality is, this history is prophecy. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are in our future.
“It’s time we face the hard, cold, realistic fact,” wrote Herbert W. Armstrong in his book The Incredible Human Potential. “Humanity has two alternatives: Either there is an Almighty, all-powerful God who is about to step in and set up the Kingdom of God to rule all nations with supernatural and supra-national FORCE to bring us peace—or else all human life will be obliterated.”
Mr. Armstrong recalled Jesus Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24. This chapter describes world events right before His Second Coming. Consider Christ’s words in verses 21-22: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”
This devastation will exceed anything mankind has ever experienced. Think about the Second World War—the scenes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka—then multiply the suffering a thousandfold. This is what the Bible says is imminent! It will be so bad that if Christ didn’t return and intervene, “there should no flesh be saved.” Mankind would be wiped out, vanquished, made extinct!
The only way this could happen in a short span of time is if nuclear bombs are being detonated!
There are about 20,000 nuclear bombs on this planet. Experts believe it would only require 50 to 100 of them, depending on their size, to wipe out every human on Earth. Mr. Armstrong continued: “The recent ‘recess’ will soon erupt into nuclear World War iii—called in biblical prophecy the ‘Great Tribulation.’”
This is real, and it is coming soon! You need to think about this, right now.
As important as it is to ponder the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and its impending repetition, it is vital to keep the larger picture in mind. Remember the theme of Matthew 24: Jesus is prophesying events to occur immediately before His return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Recall this as you meditate on this subject: The worst suffering in human history precedes the greatest, most joyous event in human history—the return of Christ and establishment of God’s government!
God is merciful and loving, and He is going to cut short the suffering. As Mr. Armstrong wrote: “God will cut short that final supreme world trouble, and send Christ again to Earth as King of kings, Lord of lords—to restore God’s government by the world-ruling Kingdom of God!”